School has been in session for about a month, the weather’s still hot, Southern California has started to see some fires, and the sky looks kind of dusty. It’s official. Fall has hit.
Once upon a time, my husband and I lived on the East Coast. I loved watching the trees change, loved watching fire colors without the fires. But I am glad to be back near family, back near a home I understand, even if it did mean trading fire trees for trees literally on fire.
I’m not much of a mood reader, but seasons do have a way of making think of certain kinds of books. I’ve written of books that feel like summer reads to me, so now I’m back with books that feel like autumn reads.
I’m definitely not one for scary books. Halloween is far from my favorite holiday. I scare easily. There’s a Goosebumps book my 4th grade teacher read to us that still scares the living daylights out of me. Instead, fall means atmospheric, witchy, and maybe a little creepy. Thrillers definitely come to mind, though I’m more likely to read them during every other season.
Let’s dive in and explore some indie books and books published by the big publishers that make me think of fall!
The Atmospheric Reads
The first daughter is for the Throne.
The second daughter is for the Wolf.
For fans of Uprooted and The Bear and the Nightingale comes a dark, sweeping debut fantasy novel about a young woman who must be sacrificed to the legendary Wolf of the Wood to save her kingdom. But not all legends are true, and the Wolf isn’t the only danger lurking in the Wilderwood.
As the only Second Daughter born in centuries, Red has one purpose—to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wood in the hope he’ll return the world’s captured gods.
Red is almost relieved to go. Plagued by a dangerous power she can’t control, at least she knows that in the Wilderwood, she can’t hurt those she loves. Again.
But the legends lie. The Wolf is a man, not a monster. Her magic is a calling, not a curse. And if she doesn’t learn how to use it, the monsters the gods have become will swallow the Wilderwood—and her world—whole.
For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten immediately springs to mind whenever I think of atmospheric reads. Between the characters and the curse they live under, and the bloodthirsty Wilderwood, every word in this book just oozes atmosphere.
It was crazy really, for Darya to think she could have some peace and quiet at Heliconia Lane. Yes, it was located in a beautiful corner of South Goa—by the beach, no less—but after her Aunt Farideh disappeared twenty years ago—from this very place—nothing has been the same again. And now her uncle was dead under bizarre circumstances as were two of the neighbours on his street.
What was happening? Was there a murderer on the loose? Why were people dying? Was it connected to her aunt’s disappearance in some way?
And most importantly, was Darya going to be next?
A cosy, Agatha Christie-style whodunnit, Kiss of Salt introduces Darya Nandkarni, an amateur, and accidental detective, who is clever, spirited, resourceful, yet troubled and vulnerable. Her adventures will make you laugh, cry, gape, and marvel, and you won’t be able to put down the book until you’ve solved the mystery along with her in the beautiful side-streets of Goa.
Kiss of Salt by Smita Bhattacharya offers an Agatha Christie-esque cozy mystery that so perfectly captures the atmosphere of a cozy mystery. The writing is gorgeous, the mystery haunting, and the characters played perfectly into it.
In a world that’s lost its magic, a former soldier turned PI solves cases for the fantasy creatures whose lives he ruined in an imaginative debut fantasy by Black Sails actor Luke Arnold.
Welcome to Sunder City. The magic is gone but the monsters remain.
I’m Fetch Phillips, just like it says on the window. There are a few things you should know before you hire me:
1. Sobriety costs extra.
2. My services are confidential.
3. I don’t work for humans.
It’s nothing personal–I’m human myself. But after what happened to the magic, it’s not the humans who need my help.
Walk the streets of Sunder City and meet Fetch, his magical clients, and a darkly imagined world perfect for readers of Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher.
The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold tells the story of a world stripped of its magic. Everything about it, from the characters to the setting, is just beaten down and fighting to survive. It’s easy to get lost in the twisted streets full of angry and mournful creatures.
Life in the Caspian Republic has taught Agent Nikolai South two rules. Trust No One. And work just hard enough not to make enemies.
Here, in the last sanctuary for the dying embers of the human race in a world run by artificial intelligence, if you stray from the path—your life is forfeit. But when a Party propagandist is killed—and is discovered as a “machine”—he’s given a new mission: chaperone the widow, Lily, who has arrived to claim her husband’s remains.
But when South sees that she, the first “machine” ever allowed into the country, bears an uncanny resemblance to his late wife, he’s thrown into a maelstrom of betrayal, murder, and conspiracy that may bring down the Republic for good.
WHEN THE SPARROW FALLS illuminates authoritarianism, complicity, and identity in the digital age, in a page turning, darkly-funny, frightening and touching story that recalls Philip K. Dick, John le Carré and Kurt Vonnegut in equal measure.
When the Sparrow Falls by Neil Sharpson is probably the best dystopian I’ve read in a really long time. Everything about it evokes a post-WWII atmosphere, but involves AI and twists and plots at every turn.
Experience an evocative combination of fantasy, history, and Jewish folklore in this lush and lyrical fairytale-inspired novel from the author of The Sisters of the Winter Wood.
Deep in the Hungarian woods, the sacred magic of King Solomon lives on in his descendants. Gathering under the midnight stars, they perform small miracles and none are more gifted than the great Rabbi Isaac and his three daughters.
Hannah, bookish and calm, can coax plants to grow even when the weather is bitterly cold. Sarah, defiant and strong, can control the impulsive nature of fire. And Levana, the fey one, can read the path of the stars to decipher their secrets.
But darkness is creeping across Europe, threatening the lives of every Jewish person in every village. Each sister will have to make an impossible choice in an effort to survive – and change the fate of their family forever.
The Light of the Midnight Stars by Rena Rossner is a gorgeous Jewish-inspired fantasy in an Eastern European-inspired setting. It’s magical and dangerous and the characters just seem to wrap folk tales and fairy tales around themselves like cloaks.
For fans of The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle and David Mitchell, a genre bending, time twisting alternative history that asks whether it’s worth changing the past to save the future, even if it costs you everyone you’ve ever loved.
Joe Tournier has a bad case of amnesia. His first memory is of stepping off a train in the nineteenth-century French colony of England. The only clue Joe has about his identity is a century-old postcard of a Scottish lighthouse that arrives in London the same month he does. Written in illegal English-instead of French-the postcard is signed only with the letter “M,” but Joe is certain whoever wrote it knows him far better than he currently knows himself, and he’s determined to find the writer. The search for M, though, will drive Joe from French-ruled London to rebel-owned Scotland and finally onto the battle ships of a lost empire’s Royal Navy. In the process, Joe will remake history, and himself.
From bestselling author Natasha Pulley, The Kingdoms is an epic, wildly original novel that bends genre as easily as it twists time.
The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley is historical fantasy involving time travel and alternate realities of the UK. It made me feel like I was walking the streets of the past, and has a wonderful atmosphere of stark reality and desperation.
A brilliantly imagined saga of honor, glory, and warfare, The Bone Ships is the epic launch of a new series from British Fantasy Award winner, RJ Barker.
*British Fantasy Award for Best Fantasy Novel, winner
Two nations at war. One prize beyond compare.
For generations, the Hundred Isles have built their ships from the bones of ancient dragons to fight an endless war. The dragons disappeared, but the battles for supremacy persisted.
Now, the first dragon in centuries has been spotted in far-off waters, and both sides see a chance to shift the balance of power in their favor. Because whoever catches it will win not only glory but the war.
The Bone Ships by RJ Barker definitely took me straight out to see and onto a ship. The world came alive and reading this, and the rest of the trilogy, just evokes everything about the sea and life on a ship constantly in motion.
A heartwarming tale of hope, fate, and folk magic unfolds when a young woman travels to a sleepy southern town in the Appalachian Mountains to bury her best friend.
At the age of eleven, Mel Smith’s life found its purpose when she met Sarah Ross. Ten years later, Sarah’s sudden death threatens to break her. To fulfill a final promise to her best friend, Mel travels to an idyllic small town nestled in the Appalachian Mountains. Yet Morgan’s Gap is more than a land of morning mists and deep forest shadows.
There are secrets that call to Mel, in the gaze of the gnarled and knowing woman everyone calls Granny, in a salvaged remedy book filled with the magic of simple mountain traditions, and in the connection she feels to the Ross homestead and the wilderness around it.
With every taste of sweet honey and tart blackberries, the wildwood twines further into Mel’s broken heart. But a threat lingers in the woods—one that may have something to do with Sarah’s untimely death and that has now set its sight on Mel.
The wildwood is whispering. It has secrets to reveal—if you’re willing to listen . . .
Wildwood Whispers by Willa Reese is a magical read about a young woman who discovers her place as a wisewoman in a small Appalachian town. The reverence to nature is beautiful and the magic liberally sprinkled.
Once upon a winter’s night, a lost cowboy finds himself in Purgatory Bend. Patrick Doolin is plagued by a wound that won’t heal, but winter is the season of miracles. As Patrick wanders through Wyoming, he meets Fawna Darling, the mysterious granny witch, who channels the folk magic of her ancestors.
With nowhere to go and a secret Patrick doesn’t yet understand, he seeks shelter with Fawna in the snowswept prairie. Forbidden to fall in love, they form an eternal bond in the dreamscape, but when the bluebirds sing of summer and threaten their empire of dreams, they are faced with an impossible decision. Will Patrick stay in the land of the living, or will he cross over the prairie?
Summer is the season of surprises, and Fawna’s childhood sweetheart, Dezi Ketchum, longs to win her heart too. When winter melts across the gold-slick prairie, Fawna searches for answers under the rose moon. Caught between fire and water and flesh and fantasy, she follows her heart and ventures into uncharted territory.
Snow Dust and Boneshine by Grendolyn Peach Soleil is about a granny witch, a healer from the prairie. There’s magic wrapped around every word and it’s all so effortlessly and beautifully done.
In a garden surrounded by a tall fence, tucked away behind a small, quiet house in an even smaller town, is an apple tree that is rumored to bear a very special sort of fruit. In this luminous debut novel, Sarah Addison Allen tells the story of that enchanted tree, and the extraordinary people who tend it. . . .
The Waverleys have always been a curious family, endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina. Even their garden has a reputation, famous for its feisty apple tree that bears prophetic fruit, and its edible flowers, imbued with special powers. Generations of Waverleys tended this garden. Their history was in the soil. But so were their futures.
A successful caterer, Claire Waverley prepares dishes made with her mystical plants—from the nasturtiums that aid in keeping secrets and the pansies that make children thoughtful, to the snapdragons intended to discourage the attentions of her amorous neighbor. Meanwhile, her elderly cousin, Evanelle, is known for distributing unexpected gifts whose uses become uncannily clear. They are the last of the Waverleys—except for Claire’s rebellious sister, Sydney, who fled Bascom the moment she could, abandoning Claire, as their own mother had years before.
When Sydney suddenly returns home with a young daughter of her own, Claire’s quiet life is turned upside down—along with the protective boundary she has so carefully constructed around her heart. Together again in the house they grew up in, Sydney takes stock of all she left behind, as Claire struggles to heal the wounds of the past. And soon the sisters realize they must deal with their common legacy—if they are ever to feel at home in Bascom—or with each other.
Enchanting and heartfelt, this captivating novel is sure to cast a spell with a style all its own. . . .
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen is full of magic and sisters and a fascinating little town where a touch of magic is just normal.
A deeper magic. A stronger curse. A family lost…and found.
Persephone May has been alone her entire life. Abandoned as an infant and dragged through the foster care system, she wants nothing more than to belong somewhere. To someone. However, Persephone is as strange as she is lonely. Unexplainable things happen when she’s around—changes in weather, inanimate objects taking flight—and those who seek to bring her into their family quickly cast her out. To cope, she never gets attached, never makes friends. And she certainly never dates. Working odd jobs and always keeping her suitcases half-packed, Persephone is used to moving around, leaving one town for another when curiosity over her eccentric behavior inevitably draws unwanted attention.
After an accidental and very public display of power, Persephone knows it’s time to move on once again. It’s lucky, then, when she receives an email from the one friend she’s managed to keep, inviting her to the elusive Wile Isle. The timing couldn’t be more perfect. However, upon arrival, Persephone quickly discovers that Wile is no ordinary island. In fact, it just might hold the very things she’s been searching for her entire life.
Answers. Family. Home.
And some things she did not want. Like 100-year-old curses and an even older family feud. With the clock running out, love might be the magic that saves them all.
The Orphan Witch by Paige Crutcher is delightfully witchy with a young woman who has been different her whole life, but a spur of the moment trip to see her friend on Wile Isle has her learning all about magic and her place in a century-old curse.
Once upon a time, a demon who desired earthly domination fathered an army of dark daughters to help him corrupt humanity . . .
As children, Goldie, Liyana, Scarlet, and Bea dreamed of a strange otherworld: a nightscape of mists and fog, perpetually falling leaves and hungry ivy, lit by an unwavering moon. Here, in this shadowland of Everwhere, the four girls, half-sisters connected by blood and magic, began to nurture their elemental powers together. But at thirteen, the sisters were ripped from Everwhere and separated. Now, five years later, they search for one another and yearn to rediscover their unique and supernatural strengths. Goldie (earth) manipulates plants and gives life. Liyana (water) controls rivers and rain. Scarlet (fire) has electricity at her fingertips. Bea (air) can fly.
To realize their full potential, the blood sisters must return to the land of their childhood dreams. But Everwhere can only be accessed through certain gates at 3:33 A.M. on the night of a new moon. As Goldie, Liyana, Scarlet, and Bea are beset with the challenges of their earthly lives, they must prepare for a battle that lies ahead. On their eighteenth birthday, they will be subjected to a gladiatorial fight with their father’s soldiers. If they survive, they will face their father who will let them live only if they turn dark. Which would be fair, if only the sisters knew what was coming.
So, they have thirty-three days to discover who they truly are and what they can truly do, before they must fight to save themselves and those they love.
The Sisters Grimm by Menna van Praag is a YA fantasy about four sisters separated by space who all have dominion over one element, but they have no idea who or what they are until they turn 18.
Mildly Creepy Reads
In this claustrophobic science fiction thriller, a woman begins to doubt her own sanity and reality itself when she undergoes a dangerous experiment.
The Ganymede facility is a fresh start. At least that’s what Senna tells herself when she arrives to take part in a cutting-edge scientific treatment in which participants have traumatic memories erased.
And Senna has reasons for wanting to escape her past.
But almost as soon as the treatment begins, Senna finds more than just her traumatic memories disappearing. She hardly recognizes her new life or herself. Even though the cure might justify the side effects of the process, Senna knows that something isn’t right. As the side effects worsen, she will need to band together with the other participants to unravel the mystery of her present and save her future.
Reclaimed by Madeleine Roux is about three people hoping a reclusive genius will be able to rid them of their traumatic memories, but the isolated dome they find themselves in offers more secrets than answers.
This psychological sci-fi thriller from a debut author follows one doctor who must discover the source of her crew’s madness… or risk succumbing to it herself.
Misanthropic psychologist Dr. Grace Park is placed on the Deucalion, a survey ship headed to an icy planet in an unexplored galaxy. Her purpose is to observe the thirteen human crew members aboard the ship—all specialists in their own fields—as they assess the colonization potential of the planet, Eos. But frictions develop as Park befriends the androids of the ship, preferring their company over the baffling complexity of humans, while the rest of the crew treats them with suspicion and even outright hostility.
Shortly after landing, the crew finds themselves trapped on the ship by a radiation storm, with no means of communication or escape until it passes—and that’s when things begin to fall apart. Park’s patients are falling prey to waking nightmares of helpless, tongueless insanity. The androids are behaving strangely. There are no windows aboard the ship. Paranoia is closing in, and soon Park is forced to confront the fact that nothing—neither her crew, nor their mission, nor the mysterious Eos itself—is as it seems.
We Have Always Been Here by Lena Nguyen is a creepy, thrilling novel set on a spaceship where the crew, human and android, all seem to be losing their minds.
It’s an average work day. You’ve been wrapped up in a task, and you check the clock when you come up for air—4:44 p.m. You check your email, and 44 unread messages have built up. With a shock, you realize the date is April 4—4/4. And when you get in your car to drive home, your odometer reads 44,444.
Coincidence? Or have you just seen the edge of a rabbit hole?
Rabbits is a mysterious alternate reality game so vast it uses the entire world as its canvas.
Since the game started in 1959, ten iterations have appeared and nine winners have been declared. The identities of these winners are unknown.
So is their reward, which is whispered to be NSA or CIA recruitment, vast wealth, immortality, or perhaps even the key to the secrets of the universe itself.
But the deeper you get, the more dangerous the game becomes. Players have died in the past—and the body count is rising.
And now the eleventh round is about to begin.
Enter K—a Rabbits obsessive who has been trying to find a way into the game for years. That path opens when K is approached by billionaire Alan Scarpio, rumored to be the winner of the sixth iteration. Scarpio says that something has gone wrong with the game and that K needs to fix it before Eleven starts, or the whole world will pay the price.
Five days later, Scarpio is declared missing.
Two weeks after that, K blows the deadline: Eleven begins.
And suddenly, the fate of the entire universe is at stake.
Rabbits by Terry Miles is weird and strange and a little creepy. Centered around a character obsessed with the game Rabbits, it easily warps reality and pulls the characters between dimensions.
It was just a simple car accident and Detective Fisher closed the case easily. But why did he remember things that had never happened, and who was the “most beautiful woman in the world” who haunted his dreams?
NYPD Detective Ray Fisher thought it meant he was going mad, but there was enough of the Detective left to see that the weirdness had started after he’d investigated a car that had been driven into the river. It was a trivial case but it opened his eyes to a shadowy elite who used people like pawns.
Ray thought he had all the answers until the NYPD suspended him and he realized that the only thing worse than the elite was the vast government Conspiracy concealing it.
Rats in a Maze by Peter Bailey holds off the creepy for the end, and it’s also fairly horrifying. This one is a crazy ride that jumps between genres.
From the Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning Adrian Tchaikovsky, The Doors of Eden is an extraordinary feat of the imagination and a page-turning adventure about parallel universes and the monsters that they hide.
They thought we were safe. They were wrong.
Four years ago, two girls went looking for monsters on Bodmin Moor. Only one came back.
Lee thought she’d lost Mal, but now she’s miraculously returned. But what happened that day on the moors? And where has she been all this time? Mal’s reappearance hasn’t gone unnoticed by MI5 officers either, and Lee isn’t the only one with questions.
Julian Sabreur is investigating an attack on top physicist Kay Amal Khan. This leads Julian to clash with agents of an unknown power – and they may or may not be human. His only clue is grainy footage, showing a woman who supposedly died on Bodmin Moor.
Dr Khan’s research was theoretical; then she found cracks between our world and parallel Earths. Now these cracks are widening, revealing extraordinary creatures. And as the doors crash open, anything could come through.
The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky is, admittedly, not exactly creepy, but the beginning of this one scared the living daylights out of me, so I’m putting it on my list. This one is just a wild ride through different realities.
A brilliantly crafted story of a struggling private detective and the cases he works. Much more than a simple detective story, this is a complex portrayal of a good man who is ultimately pushed to extraordinary limits.
A mysterious case of identity switching turns deadly when struggling private investigator, John Targett, becomes involved. As John seeks to unravel one mystery, he is also forced to deal with an escalating menace when he becomes the target of a vicious gang whose path he has crossed. As the twin plots intertwine and the threats escalate, John is forced to take extreme measures to protect his daughter and fight for his own life.
Plagued by his own demons and trying to raise his daughter alone, this is a beautifully crafted story of the lengths to which one man will go to protect those he loves. At times tender, filled with sparkling wit and peppered with edge-of-your-seat action, this is a multi-facetted mystery that will satisfy on many levels.
Someone Else’s Life by Kevin Simington is easily one of my favorite thrillers, and it definitely has a lot to do with the way it ended. This is fun, sarcastic, and packed full of fascinating characters.
Can one man launch the end times of Revelation? Can another man stop him?
Celebrated entrepreneur Matt Decker goes from hero to goat when the futuristic power grid he designed is brought down by a hack that was supposed to be impossible, plunging the United States into darkness. As the nation descends into lethal pandemonium, Decker works feverishly to restore power and undo the damage. But the hack was just Day One, and the world is in for a very bad week.
Whoever is behind the attacks wants more than global death and destruction. It’s also personal, and Decker is the target. As the attacks escalate and the death toll rises, they taunt him with riddles and threats, daring him to put the clues together in time to stop them from ushering in Armageddon.
Decker and his thrown-together team are up against the wall and racing the clock in this thriller that grabs you early and never lets go. Read it now and find out why Jerry Hatchett is the author you can’t put down.
Seven Unholy Days by Jerry Hatchett is almost a little too religious for my tastes, but that still doesn’t cloud the fact that this was a great thriller and I did really enjoy it.
Meet the trophy wives of Presidio Terrace, San Francisco’s most exclusive—and most deadly—neighborhood in this shrewd, darkly compelling novel from the New York Times bestselling author of In Her Shadow.
Mystery writer Brooke Davies is the new wife on the block. Her tech-billionaire husband, Jack, twenty-two years her senior, whisked her to the Bay Area via private jet and purchased a modest mansion on the same day. He demands perfection, and before now, Brooke has had no problem playing the role of a doting housewife. But as she befriends other wives on the street and spends considerable time away from Jack, he worries if he doesn’t control Brooke’s every move, she will reveal the truth behind their “perfect” marriage.
Erin King, famed news anchor and chair of the community board, is no stranger to maintaining an image—though being married to a plastic surgeon helps. But the skyrocketing success of her career has worn her love life thin, and her professional ambitions have pushed Mason away. Quitting her job is a Hail Mary attempt at keeping him interested, to steer him away from finding a young trophy wife. But is it enough, and is Mason truly the man she thought he was?
Georgia St. Claire allegedly cashed in on the deaths of her first two husbands, earning her the nickname “Black Widow”—and the stares and whispers of her curious neighbors. Rumored to have murdered both men for their fortunes, she claims to have found true love in her third marriage, yet her mysterious, captivating allure keeps everyone guessing. Then a tragic accident forces the residents of Presidio Terrace to ask: Has Georgia struck again? And what is she really capable of doing to protect her secrets?
The Sinful Lives of Trophy Wives by Kristin Miller feels more like a summer read, but it’s still a thriller I really enjoyed with characters with intertwined motivations who reveal the life behind the wealthy.
You meets Fatal Attraction in this up-all-night story of suspicion, obsession and motherhood.
It all begins on an ordinary fall morning, when Kelly Medina gets a call from her son’s pediatrician to confirm her upcoming “well-baby” appointment. It’s a cruel mistake; her son left for college a year ago, and Kelly’s never felt so alone. The receptionist quickly apologizes: there’s another mother in town named Kelly Medina, and she must have gotten their numbers switched.
For days, Kelly can’t stop thinking about the woman who shares her name. Lives in her same town. Has a son she can still hold, and her whole life ahead of her. She can’t help looking for her: at the grocery store, at the gym, on social media. When Kelly just happens to bump into the single mother outside that pediatrician’s office, it’s simple curiosity getting the better of her.
Their unlikely friendship brings Kelly a renewed sense of purpose—taking care of this young woman and her adorable baby boy. But that friendship quickly turns to obsession, and when one Kelly disappears, well, the other one may know why.
When I Was You by Amber Garza is a crazy story of two women who share the exact same name and the lengths they’ll go to to take over the other’s life.
What books make you think of fall? What kinds of books are perfect for curling up with during fall?
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